Self-censorship has been on the rise in recent years, with cultural elites bending over backwards to forestall hurt Muslim feelings. Now Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, has warned that broadcasters must guard against the temptation to treat Islamic issues with kid gloves:
Speaking at Westminster Cathedral Mr. Thompson, a practicing Catholic, said there was "a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam and its relationship to the traditions and values of British and Western society as a whole."
He said that the BBC and other major channels "have a special responsibility" to ensure that debates about "faith and society" and about any religion "should not be foreclosed or censored."
Thompson averred that his network practices what he preaches. "There is no point having a BBC which isn't prepared to stand up and be counted," he said, contending that the Beeb subjects Islam to just as much scrutiny as it does other religions.
British comedian Ben Elton would beg to differ. One week earlier, the co-writer of the legendary Blackadder series sharply criticized the BBC for what he described as its oversensitivity toward Islam:
And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the community have about provoking the radical elements of Islam.
There's no doubt about it, the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass.
Specifically, he claims to have been told not to use the phrase "Mohammed came to the mountain," a play on the old proverb. But Elton argues that the real offense is treating Muslims like children:
I'm quite certain that the average Muslim does not want everybody going around thinking, "We can't mention you. We've just got to pretend you don't exist because we're scared that somebody who claims to represent you will threaten to kill us."
Even to a comedian, the harm that self-censorship inflicts upon both Muslims and non-Muslims is no laughing matter.